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DRC Prepares to Elect President; Up Close With Mountain Gorillas

Aired October 28, 2006 - 12:30   ET


FEMI OKE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Femi Oke. This is INSIDE AFRICA, your weekly look at life and news on the continent.
This week, we travel to the very heart of Africa. We get up close with some of the last remaining mountain gorillas living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And we'll also take you on an intimate photographic journey into the life of its people.

But first, tension is rising as the Democratic Republic of the Congo prepares to go to the polls. The vote will conclude the country's first democratic vote since independence nearly half a century ago. It's the final step in the process aimed at ending the bloodiest conflict since World War II.

So far, there has been sporadic violence and clashes between rival supporters. The question is, will Sunday's run-off finally bring peace to this troubled nation?


OKE (voice-over): The future of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has come down to this: Either Joseph Kabila, the incumbent president and former army major general, or Jean-Pierre Bemba, one of four vice presidents, a former rebel leader, a millionaire accused of war crimes. Critics say smuggling minerals made him rich. He denies wrongdoing, said he made his money in agriculture.

But will these men be good for Congo?

SUSAN RICE, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: Out of the country of almost 60 million people, if you were going to pick the most dynamic and intelligent and qualified leaders, you probably wouldn't come up with the choice between Kabila and Bemba.

OKE: Yet, from a field of 33 candidates, they are the only choices left. Kabila just missed the majority vote in the July elections, winning 45 percent of the ballot, compared to Bemba's 20 percent.

Now, all eyes are on Sunday's run-off.


OKE: President Kabila who was thrust into power after his father was assassinated five years ago, says he wants to finish what he started.

KABILA: There is number of things that have still to be done, quite a number of things. We're talking of reunification, which is a reality, but peace and stability are still a long way away. So we want to make it such that peace and stability become also a reality.

OKE: His opponent insists that he represents the Congolese people, while Kabila is a pawn of foreign powers.

JEAN-PIERRE BEMBA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We believe that we can with Congo do more than he's doing today in - or different sector. Economy, justice, politic, reconstruction, agriculture, health, education.

OKE: Congo has endured decades of violent takeovers and corruption. The hope is that finally, these elections can break that cycle.

It's an expensive gamble that will cost the U.N. nearly a half a billion dollars. More than 17,000 U.N. troops are here to keep the peace.

The July elections went fairly smoothly, but that was proved to be the calm before the storm. Weeks later, forces loyal to Kabila and Bemba battled on the streets of the capital. More than 20 died in the three-day siege, a bloody footnote to the first free elections in more than four decades.

RICE: The reality is that both sides are heavily armed, very dangerous, and neither side is certain to take defeat peacefully.

OKE: Whether the loser concedes or fights will determine Congo's course. The stakes for the rest of Africa cannot be underestimated.

RICE: It's an opportunity for progress, but it's also a huge risk. If Congo slides back into conflict, not only could it engulf the Congo again, but it'll release (ph) risks, bringing in the neighboring states who have more than once been militarily engaged in this situation.

OKE: That situation is the worst-case scenario. More war, more bloodshed, for a country and a continent that has seen enough. The best- case scenario is that these elections are the beginning of a long process towards rebuilding this troubled nation.


OKE: Now, the election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is raising hopes of a better future, but to truly understand what's at stake, we have to take a look back to the past. CNN's Anderson Cooper recently traveled to the region.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Nearly 4 million people have died from war-related causes in Congo in the past eight years alone, according to the International Rescue Committee -- many, many times more deaths than in Iraq and Afghanistan combined -- the world's deadliest conflict since World War II.

It's the continuation of violence that has raged for more than a century here. Congo expert Didier Gondola explains why.

DIDIER GONDOLA, AUTHOR, "HISTORY OF CONGO": A short answer would be that Congo has been cursed by its natural resources, and that's why - one of the reasons why so much violence has taken place in that country.

COOPER: King Leopold II of Belgium was the first to exploit the rich resources, taking the Congo as his personal possession, and leveling the lands to cultivate rubber used to make tires. In the late 1800s, Leopold's forces enslaved the Congolese people, cutting off limbs to enforce rubber quotas. Millions died of exploitation and disease.

Protests prompted the Belgian government to take control from Leopold in 1908, turning Congo into a Belgian colony. But the Congolese rejected colonial status, and violent riots in 1960 led to Congo's independence.

The fledgling country, though, got off to a rocky start. Within months, the first elected prime minister was assassinated.

After years of rebellions, U.S.-backed general Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in 1965, renaming the country Zaire.

GONDOLA: He was quite a corrupt leader. At one point, Mobutu had - his personal fortune was the equivalent of the national debt of the country.

COOPER: His reign of corruption would last three decades, spawning the term "cleptocracy," rule by thieves.

Toward the end of his reign, violence once again rocked this country, as decades-old conflict between the rival Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups spilled over from neighboring Rwanda. Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo in 1996 under the pretext of stamping out Hutu militias. As the armies advanced, slaughtering Hutu refugees, Mobutu fled.

The invaders made a local rebel leader and brothel owner Laurent Kabila president in 1997. Kabila renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

One year later, Uganda and Rwanda invaded again, in what became known as Africa's first world war. At least eight other African nations joined in the fighting.

Kabila was gunned down by his own bodyguard five years ago. His 29- year old son Joseph took over his president, and the next year signed a peace deal with warring factions.

Now, there are more than 17,000 United Nations troops in Congo, trying to keep that peace, and the United States provides aid through relief agencies. $39 million was budgeted this year, but still, the deaths continue. Corrupt military units and rebel factions still terrorize, rape and murder the Congolese people. The United Nations estimates more than 1,200 people die a day from malnutrition and disease, which is why it's been said that in Congo, this peace looks an awful lot like war.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, Goma.


OKE: The people of Congo are not the only victims of the region's brutal past.


COOPER: Visiting the mountain gorillas is probably one of the most incredible and intimate experiences you can have with an animal in the wild, when you are this close to the gorillas and you see their eyes, you see how intelligent they are and how really similar they are to human beings. Each one really has a unique personality. Each one is an individual.


OKE: When INSIDE AFRICA returns, CNN's Anderson Cooper takes us high to the mountains of the Congo to visit some of the world's last remaining mountain gorillas. See you in two minutes.



OKE (voice-over): In our "News Around Africa" this week, the embattled U.N. special envoy for Sudan stands by his criticism of the Sudanese government, saying it is still violating the Darfur peace agreement.

JAN PRONK, SPECIAL REP. FOR U.N. IN SUDAN: The rebel movements have promised me after many discussions, really, to stop attacking the government. However, the government has continued to attack.

OKE: Jan Pronk was expelled from the region last Sunday, after criticizing the government's actions in the war-torn Darfur region.

Sudanese billionaire, Mo Ibrahim, is putting up millions of dollars in prize money to promote good governance in Africa. The Mo Ibrahim Prize will be awarded to select former heads of state. Ibrahim says he's trying in part to encourage leaders to step down at the end of their term. Nelson Mandela says Mo Ibrahim's vision sets an example the rest of the world can emulate.

South African singer Lebo Mathosa has died in a car crash near Johannesburg. The popular Kweta (ph) style music star was killed when her driver reportedly lost control of the car. Mathosa was a household name in South Africa, but she started her career as a member of the group Boom Shaka. She was one of the performers in last year's launch of MTV's Africa Music Channel.


OKE: My favorite quote from Lebo here on INSIDE AFRICA was when she was talking about how music figured in her dancing, and she said, "We dance sex." She will be sorely missed, and we miss all her music and her videos here on INSIDE AFRICA. Condolences to her family.

We continue now with our Congo special. We want to take you back to the DRC, where years of conflict is affecting not just the people of the region. CNN's Anderson Cooper got a closer look at the region's endangered inhabitants.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): After years and war of government neglect, nothing is easy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To find the remaining last mountain gorillas, you have to drive for hours along bumpy dirt roads. Then, guarded by park rangers, hack your way through thick forests.

(on camera): There's only about 700 mountain gorillas left in the entire world, and all of them live in central Africa.

They live in two distinct groups. One group of about 320 live on a mountain in Uganda. The other, about 380 of them, live here in the Virungas, a densely forested series of mountains that straddle Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

(voice-over): In Rwanda, the mountain gorillas are the country's biggest tourist attraction, bringing in about $2 million a year. But here in the Congo, years of fighting have driven away the tourists. And since 1994, more than 100 of these park rangers have been killed.

(on camera): The gorillas here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are under threat from all sides. Farmers desperate for land are encroaching on their habitat. So are miners, who are exploiting the natural resources of the country. Miners also need food to eat, and so they hunt gorillas. They also set traps, snares for other animals that the gorillas get caught in.

(voice-over): Many gorillas have lost hands to snares. Others have died from subsequent infections, or have been killed by poachers looking to steal baby gorillas and sell them on the black market.

The park rangers patrol every day, searching for snares set by poachers.

(on camera): These guards protect the gorillas from hunters and poachers, but their salaries aren't being paid by the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In fact, the government here can rarely pay anybody's salary. The salaries are picked up by the U.N. and a consortium of private conservation groups. But without these guards, it's likely many more gorillas would get killed.

(voice-over): After hiking for more than an hour, the park rangers find a nest where a family of gorillas spent the night. Nearby, they discover food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the bamboo shoots.

COOPER (voice-over): ... recently eaten by the gorillas.

A few feet away, in a small clearing, we get our first sight of the mountain gorillas. They are playing together.

(on camera): There's nine gorillas in this group, and every gorilla group is headed by an adult male, called the silverback. That's the silverback right over there, because of the distinctive coloring on his back. A fully grown silverback can weigh about 500 pounds.

PATRICK MEHLMAN, GORILLA EXPERT: His name is Oomba (ph), and we think he's about 22, 24 years of age. He's the only silverback in this group.

COOPER (voice-over): Patrick Mehlman is a gorilla expert with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Conservation International.

MEHLMAN: He's just testing us. He's just testing us. It's OK. He's just trying to pass now. Just let him pass. As long as he doesn't feel like we're doing anything threatening, he'll just walk right by us, as he did.

COOPER (voice-over): Gorillas are highly susceptible to human diseases, so visitors are only allowed one hour with the mountain gorillas. But it's more than worth the trip.

(on camera): Visiting the mountain gorillas is probably one of the most incredible and intimate experiences you can have with an animal in the wild. When you are this close to the gorillas and you see their eyes, you see how intelligent they are and how really similar they are to human beings. Each one really has a unique personality. Each one is an individual.

(voice-over): Despite the obstacles mountain gorillas still face, they are in some ways a success story. In recent years, their numbers have been slowly climbing.

For other gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, the so-called lowland gorillas, the picture is much bleaker.

MEHLMAN: The lowland gorillas have indeed suffered from the effects of civil war, because you've had several armies and all of these armed rebel groups moving through the habitat. And there are occasions when they'll just take out their AK-47s and have target practice. That happens.

COOPER: That happens, and likely will continue to happen until a government takes hold in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that makes protecting gorillas a priority, if not on principle, then simply as a way to bring in some desperately needed tourist dollars.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, Goma.


OKE: The gorillas are the largest living primates, and along with chimpanzees, are our closest living relatives. For that and many other reasons, some people are taking it on themselves to protect these great animals. Again, here's Anderson Cooper.


COOPER (voice-over): A baby gorilla stolen from her mother, a young victim of the chaos here in the Congo. She's just 5 or 6 months old, one of four young lowland, or Grauer, gorillas, who found a temporary refugee behind the guarded walls of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund headquarters in Goma.

Like the other gorillas here, she was brutally taken from her family to be sold on the black market. Now, none of these gorillas can survive in the wild in their own.

(on camera): So someone, soldiers or whomever, would just go in, grab them from their families.


COOPER: . and then hope to sell them?

LILLY: Exactly. The worst thing is, they had to kill significant numbers of their family members to get them. They are like human children that are suffering from war and have seen family members killed.

COOPER (voice-over): Lilly is a primate psychologist who hopes one day to reintroduce these gorillas into the wild.

LILLY: We work with them to encourage them to bond with their caregivers, because gorillas are like babies. They're like human babies. They have to have a close bond with the caregiver, when you don't have a parent or they don't survive.

COOPER: After several months here, these gorillas have improved dramatically. They're once again playful and naturally curious, as interested in us as we are of them.

LILLY: You have a gorilla...

COOPER (on camera): I know. I can feel -- I can feel the gorilla behind me. Any advice on...

LILLY: Just ignore her.

COOPER: Ignore the gorilla?

LILLY: Yes, just ignore her.

COOPER: This is a gorilla named Utabari (ph). She's three and a half. She was rescued from poachers about a year ago. They stole her from her family and hoped to sell her on the black market.

She's now smelling my armpit.

(voice-over) It's not known how many lowland gorillas still live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Estimates range from 7,000 to 15,000, but their population has dropped 25 percent in recent years.

LILLY: And so there's hunting in the forest. People are going in to bring in food for the mining camps.

COOPER (on camera): So the more mining there is, the great the threat to the gorillas?

LILLY: Exactly.

COOPER (voice-over): It's believed a gorilla like this one might fetch from $50,000 to $100,000 on the black market, sold to buyers in Asia or Eastern Europe.

LILLY: Someone, in fact, came here trying to sell us a baby gorilla, because we had...

COOPER: They tried to sell a baby gorilla to you?

LILLY: Yes, yes. The Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund International, because they saw our logo with the gorilla on the gate, and they thought, oh, they must like gorillas. So, we called the wildlife authorities and set up a sting, pretended we were going to buy the gorillas.

COOPER (voice-over): It was a small victory in a war these gorillas are not yet winning -- innocent victims of a conflict they simply know nothing about.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, Goma.


OKE: You know, I think little Utabari (ph) is in love with Anderson Cooper. Utabari (ph), he's too old for you!

There's more to come on INSIDE AFRICA.


RON HAVIV, PHOTOGRAPHER: It's very important for photography, for journalism to act as a checks-and-balance system for the way the world works, and that we are, as photographers and as journalists, we are the eyes of the world, not just of our own nationality, but of the entire world.


OKE: When we come back, a photographer's intimate look at the lives of the people of the Congo. See you on the other side.



HAVIV: The DR Congo is just an amazingly beautiful place. And it's this lush, green place that you look at with such beauty that you can't imagine the horrors that are going on there every day.

The most moving experience that I had in the DR Congo was going to these funerals of these children under 5, where I would go from basically one hut, walk five minutes, go to another hut, there would be another funeral and another funeral.

This is a brother of a child who's died of malnutrition. His brother was 3. And I came across this funeral as it was happening, and the family invited me in and said, please, please photograph, please see what's happened.

This is the mother of the child. What happens is that the mother sits there with the child, as people come in to give their condolences, to look at the child for one last time before they take the child out and put it in a small casket and take the child to the cemetery.

This is a photograph of a Pakistani U.N. patrol in one of the IDP camps, one of the refugee camps. And kids being kids, they love to chase trucks and they're excited to see soldiers and things of that nature. But basically in some ways, it is as is -- as this picture looks, the United Nations, I.e. the world, basically leaving the people in the dust.

I think it's just incredibly important for us to realize as we sit and watch this on television or read about it in newspapers and magazines, that even though it seems incredibly far away, there are ways that the citizen of the world can participate to help people on the ground. This is not completely hopeless, and I think it's imperative for us to remember and to teach our children that we can make the world better. And I think that when you witness things like this, I only hope that it will strengthen your resolve, the people's resolve to do that.


OKE: Oh, my goodness. Those photographs just make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. That was Ron Haviv there on his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If you'd like to help the people of the DRC, or find an exhibit of photographs shot by Ron Haviv and his colleagues, go to the Doctors Without Borders Web site at That's And search "DRC." You might want to take a second look at the photograph of the Congolese woman among those mosquito nets.

There's also a book you can check out called "Forgotten War: Democratic Republic of Congo."

The INSIDE AFRICA team wants to hear from you. So please send us your pictures, videos or email, and tell us about your Africa. Whether you've visited the continent or whether you call it your home, we want to share your impressions of Africa with the rest of the world. You can send them to That's

That's it for this week's program. Coming up next week, we'll have a lot more, especially a look on the set of "Jozi-H." That's a brand new TV series starting in South Africa. Very slick and very smooth, and it's based on Johannesburg hospital. And it's like "ER," but done African style. You won't want to miss it. Alphonso Van Marsh will bring us that report.

Now, that's it for me. My name is Femi Oke. But please join us again for another week. We want INSIDE AFRICA to be your window to the continent.

Until the next time, take care.



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